Finding Joy: Build a Better Brain in 2016

It’s a new year, and everyone has resolutions. We’re going to lose weight and stay fit. We’re going to quit smoking and eat healthier. We’re going to save money, travel to new places, and spend more time with the family.

These are all great ideas, but very few of us will actually adopt resolutions that will address perhaps the most important aspect of our lives: our mental health. Good mental health often goes ignored; we tend to take it for granted. Poor mental health, on the other hand, can cripple every aspect of our lives. Stress, depression, anxiety, anger, inability to focus, or any of the myriad symptoms we might suffer can distance us from our loved ones, keep us from enjoying and performing our best at work, and prevent us from reaching our full potential. Mental health might be the most important aspect of our overall well-being, but it’s the one most overlooked by society in general.

Brain coverSo this year, let’s resolve to take steps to improve and maintain good mental health. Fortunately, there are plenty of books to help us do just that. One great first choice is Change Your Brain, Change Your Life (Revised and Expanded): The Breakthrough Program for Conquering Anxiety, Depression, Obsessiveness, Lack of Focus, Anger and Memory Problems (Harmony Books, November 2015). In this book, Dr. Daniel G. Amen, a neuroscientist, psychiatrist and brain-imaging expert, outlines his theory that it’s possible to change your brain, and in doing so, change your life. “You’re not stuck with the brain you have,” he says, and what’s more, he says he can prove it.

Daniel-Amen
Dr. Daniel Amen

According to Dr. Amen, who has spent his professional career studying brain images from children, teenagers and adults from more than 100 countries, many of the symptoms experienced by people with mental health issues are related to how specific structures in their brains work. Amen not only explains this phenomenon, but offers what he calls effective “brain prescriptions” that can help us heal our brains and change our lives.

What our some of these prescriptions? If you’re experiencing anxiety and panic, there are simple breathing techniques that can calm that sense of inner turmoil. If you’re depressed, you can try to eradicate what Amen calls “automatic negative thoughts.” Are you an obsessive worrier? There’s a “get unstuck” writing exercise that could help you settle down. In all, the program will “help you boost your brain and the brains of those you love,” Amen writes, “which in turn will improve everything in your life and theirs.”

Joy coverOnce your life is improved, though—or even while you’re improving it—what can you do to actually be happy? How do you achieve and maintain that state of happiness? Is it something that happens by accident, or is it a state of mind that you can conjure at will? According to Tzivia Gover, author of Joy in Every Moment (Storey Publishing, November 2015), every one of life’s events, whether it’s brushing your teeth, making a to-do list or preparing dinner, offers an opportunity to experience happiness.

Gover has designed her work to be “a life coach in a book”—a treasury of creative, effective exercises to uncover tidbits of joy in the course of your day that will ultimately add up to a lifetime of happiness. “For some people, happiness comes easily,” she writes. “For more of us, we need to be active participants in the quest to attain it.” This book, with its basic instructions for stress-reducing techniques, will show you how to do just that.

“We may feel that we are at the whim of our moods and emotions, but we have a lot more control over how we feel than we think,” Gover writes. “External events, possessions or situations don’t guarantee deep or long-term happiness. But daily commitment to feeling better can.”

Joy work

So this year, let’s all make a resolution to beef up our brains and pursue joy and happiness. Putting down the cigarettes and dropping those pesky 10 pounds might be good ideas, but in the end, promoting good mental health might just be the best thing we can do, for ourselves and for those we love.

Joy in Every Moment illustrations by Olaf Hajek

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